by Sonja Nikcevic, AIPS Media
LAUSANNE, July 22, 2018 – “We have come a long way since FINA was founded in 1908. Our aim is always to improve our sport and boost the popularity of aquatics.”
These were the words of Dr. Julio Maglione, the president of the governing body of swimming and aquatics, as the association celebrated its 110 years of history, by inaugurating a new headquarters in Lausanne last week.
Maglione continued. “All of this would not be possible without our 209 members across five continents sharing the same passion throughout our history. They have helped millions of people learn to swim around the world.
Federations across the Olympic family have been met with the challenge the FINA president first mentioned – boosting the popularity of the sport, finding a way to gain the elusive attention – and consumption – of the millennial generation, and the younger, even more elusive generations after them.
The difference with swimming – as the core of all aquatics sports – is that boosting its popularity also means saving lives.
Passion and sport have always gone hand in hand, but (while at times it may seem so in the poorest corners of the world) one does not need to know how to kick a ball or shoot a basket to survive. This is where FINA has a greater responsibility than most. This is where grassroots is less of a promotional concept and more of a life jacket.
The ‘Thai cave boys’ Just weeks ago, the story of the young football team trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand swept the world. On 23 June, 12 boys, players on a local football team were trapped inside a cave due to monsoon flooding. After nine days, and a high profile rescue mission headed by the Thai Navy Seals and international divers, the boys were found. The challenge of finding a way to rescue the boys was made more difficult by the fact that the majority hardly knew how to swim.
To prepare for the rescue, divers started practicing with local boys at a swimming pool – to see how to transport a child safely underwater. Two weeks after the boys and their coach entered the caves, the underwater mission to save them begun. After the team of divers reached them, each boy was given a full-face air mask to ensure they could breathe, and clipped to a diver. Another diver accompanied them. Four days later, each of the 12 boys and their coach were out, along with the entire rescue team. One member, a former Thai navy diver, lost his life after running out of oxygen during the dive.
Having strong swimming skills would not have helped the boys find their own way out. But what it did do is shed light on the fact that so many young people – including young athletes, do not know how to swim, despite being surrounded by water.
Where to go from here The day before the inauguration of its new headquarters, the FINA Executive Board met to discuss the federation’s strategic plan for the next four-year period. And FINA’s core strategy remains the same, Secretary General Cornel Marculescu explained.
“Our main objective is always to develop the sport in more countries around the world,” he said.
Julio Maglione added: “The key is supporting more coaches, and encouraging even more to get certified as coaches, because this is a necessity in the world. Thailand is an example, where young kids, athletes, who play football, do not know how to swim. It’s a problem that we are going towards solving.”
‘Swimming for Life’ According to The World Health Organization, drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, accounting for 7% of all injury-related deaths, with an estimated 360 000 annual drowning deaths worldwide.
FINA established the “Swimming for All – Swimming for Life” programme with the goal of teaching children how to swim and to promote physical activity through swimming across the globe. It offers standard criteria to teach swimming on a global scale and will be focused on countries around the globe that need it most.
And it was precisely in Thailand in May of last year that FINA hosted its first ever International Swim Clinic as a part of the Swimming for All, Swimming for Life programme, in Bangkok, just over a year before the nation would become the focus of the unique underwater rescue mission. The Clinic included representatives from 49 countries across five continents, with the goal of “teaching and promote water safety so that people of any age, ability and residency can take swim lessons.”
FINA has also created a Technical Commission to be in charge of the programme’s development, composed of specialists coordinating its work on each continent.
Asia As the Olympic family, including IOC President Thomas Bach, ANOC President Sheikh Ahmed Al-Sabah, celebrated the inauguration of FINA’s 19 million CHF headquarters and its 110 years of successfully governing aquatic sports, Maglione announced that FINA’s focus was shifting to Asia. Ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the short course World Swimming Championships would be held in Hangzhou, China in December 2018, while Gwangju, South Korea will host the 2019 FINA World Championships. The FINA World Championships after that, in 2021, will be held in Fukuoka in Japan.
While many sports have faced the challenge of finding host cities for their high profile – high cost international events, FINA is set until 2024, with Abu Dhabi and Doha hosting the 2020 Short Course World Championships and the 2024 Aquatics Championships respectively. The goal for FINA is ensuring that Swimming for Life is promoted as much as the championships are. And that talks of how many children and adults are without the option to learn to swim, is just as important as talk of morning finals at Tokyo 2020, TV broadcaster pressure and governance battles – all of which await FINA as they look to the next 110 years.